Label co-founder Matt Black talked about the project last October at the ADE conference in Amsterdam, targeting a December/January release date. “It’s a chance to show that electronic music is actually very plastic,” said Black at ADE.
“It has plasticity, which means that it’s malleable. It’s flexible… It can morph from one shape to another. Ninja Jamm allows one to play with the plasticity of dance music: you can turn a trance track into a hip-hop track just by slowing it down and changing some of the elements.”
The app finally came out last week, and it’s worth the wait. It’s a collaboration with arts and technology collective Seeper, and is available as a free download for iPhone, and lets fans remix sounds from a variety of Ninja artists, from Coldcut to Amon Tobin, Mr Scruff and Bonobo.
The app is based around ‘tunepacks’ – collections of loops and samples based on individual songs or albums. One is included for free – Coldcut’s Beats and Pieces 3 – with others sold for between 69p and £1.99 each. Not bad, considering the quality is HD lossless audio, with the app explaining how much space each tunepack takes up before you download it.
When you load a tunepack, it plays automatically. Each has four channels which you can tap on and off – beats, bass etc – with each channel able to play in ‘clip’ or ‘drill’ mode.
The former lets you switch between different clips, while the latter shows waveforms and lets you hold down on any segment to ‘drill’ it. There are also DJing effects like crush, filter, delay and reverb for each channel, and an XY pad to apply multiple effects using two fingers on the touchscreen.
You can tap a gyroscope button to control this by tilting your iPhone, and there’s even a ‘Coldcutter’ effect to chop sounds up yet further. The BPM can be adjusted too.
It’s complicated, and yet not.
There are a lot of (literally) moving parts to Ninja Jamm that can initially feel daunting even when you’ve completed the in-app tutorial. It’s something you need to explore, to work at, to really make the most of it, but it’s never frustrating.
These are good things. Ninja Jamm doesn’t hand you everything on a plate and leave you feeling like a spare part, as a number of remix apps do. You really can mess about with the innards of every track, with the canny touch and tilt controls making it a genuinely tactile experience – and one that’s accessible despite that initial complexity.
You can also record your creations then upload them to SoundCloud from within the app, although you’re warned in the terms and conditions not to then make those recordings available for public downloading.
As things stand, it’s a very impressive app. Ninja Tune is promising to keep supporting Ninja Jamm too, adding new packs – including from artists who aren’t signed to the label (“Note to self: Speak to Daft Punk about future tunepack,” reads one recent update from its official Twitter account.
I’d love to see Ninja Jamm expand beyond iPhone to Apple’s iPad – you can use the iPhone version on larger-screened iOS devices, but Seeper surely have some good ideas on how to use those bigger displays too.
Naturally, Android-owning Ninja Tune fans will be keen to see it on their devices too. Judging by a Facebook Q&A last week, that’s something both Ninja Tune and Seeper are keen to see happen.
Anyway, relatively few artist or label-based remix apps have done well on iOS, which is usually because they’re either too simple (and thus lose their charms quickly) or too fiddly.
Ninja Jamm walks the line very well between those two dangers, so it deserves to find an audience matching the craft and thought that’s gone into it.